The Akron school board in its meeting Monday will consider spending an additional $300,000 to transport children not in its schools — charter school students that the state says it must bus.
The proposal comes just weeks after the district changed or shaved transportation for some of its own students to save $400,000.
Debra Foulk, executive director of business affairs for Akron schools, said there are five new charter schools this year and three others have relocated, requiring additions and adjustments to transportation services.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools, often run by for-profit companies. Parents who withdraw from Akron schools, where their children often are not eligible for busing, can send them to a charter, and Akron must transfer all public dollars to the new school plus provide busing.
“I have more miles to transport,” Foulk said Friday.
Foulk will recommend Monday that the board approve $262,000 for Petermann, a private bus contractor, for additional pickup and drop-off points as charter school options expand. In addition, she will propose up to $40,000 in Metro bus passes for 100 students at the Next Frontier Academy, a Copley Road charter school that opened late this year and is still attempting to fill its seats.
Akron has a fleet of 90 buses and contracts with private, for-profit bus companies for additional services. Last year, Petermann was hired to provide 23 buses to transport charter school students. Each bus was on the road five hours a day.
Petermann will need to purchase two additional buses plus increase the hours of use for 13 others to accommodate the charter schools, she said.
The irony is that while Akron will pay an additional $262,000, many charter schools solicit new families by advertising that they provide free transportation.
In August, Akron realigned its transportation services to save $400,000, eliminating some busing for Akron students that dated back to a decades-old desegregation plan. That service was made unnecessary with open enrollment. In addition, other students were moved to lower-cost transportation.
Most urban school districts have cut their transportation to the state minimum, picking up only students in kindergarten through eighth grade who live more than 2 miles from their local school.
The situation for traditional school districts has been worsened by the fact that the state in recent years canceled its program to help replace aging buses and state support for daily transportation operations has fallen far short of inflationary costs.
Meanwhile, as new charter schools open, Akron attempts to map out increasingly complex routes to ensure that no student is on the bus for longer than 90 minutes.
Most charter and private schools supply enrollment estimates by April so Akron can plan. When the Next Frontier Academy made a last-minute opening on Sept. 16, Akron elected to buy up to $40,000 in Metro passes, bringing the number of passes for charter school students up to 350.
The district considered asking Petermann to put another bus on the streets for Next Frontier’s seventh- and eighth-graders, but Metro tickets were a cheaper alternative to a “logistical challenge,” Foulk said.
“We truly try to trim it as much as we can,” she said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.